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Saturday, August 6, 2011

Wastewater Commission gives up on ordinance

Get out your checkbooks!
After many months of work, the Wastewater Management Commission is throwing in the towel on their efforts to write a new wastewater ordinance. They told town wastewater manager Matt Dowling to write a memo to the Town Council saying that after getting an earful from “stakeholders,” the ordinance is “far too complex to implement” and that the town should look for some other way.

The Commission did not suggest any alternative approaches.

The Commission had been trying to find practical, economical alternatives that property owners could use when they replace cesspools or failed conventional septic systems or make additions to their homes besides the DEM-approved denitrification systems that cost $30,000 or more. Most of Charlestown’s residents will be affected.

The Commission presented a draft ordinance to the Town Council at its June 15th meeting, but Commission representative Peter Ogle immediately started taking a beating from “stakeholders” – specifically developer Tim Stasiunas and attorney Maggie Hogan.

Stasiunas attacked the ordinance for its potential to interfere with his future development plans, and Hogan attacked the Commission for their process and for attempting to legislate a minimum lot size through the back door.

Peter Ogle attempted to defend the ordinance and the work of the commission by asserting that the Commission’s goal was to achieve the greatest good for the greatest number. He also stressed how difficult it is to negotiate any concessions from RIDEM. He noted that if we do nothing, RIDEM’s denitrification systems prevail by default.

When I wrote up the June 15 meeting, I noted that it was a brawl from start to finish. The discord over the wastewater ordinance was a top contender for the ugliest part of the meeting, which was a shame because from what I could see, the Commission did the best job it could. But nothing they could say would satisfy Stasiunas – who admitted when asked by Council President Tom Gentz that he did not raise his concerns with the Commission during their long months of work on the ordinance.

In the interests of peace and harmony, or what was left, the Commission told the Council they would like to pull the ordinance and go back to the drawing board, pledging to bend over backwards to involve aggrieved developers like Stasiunas.

But the letter from Matt Dowling on the Commission’s behalf makes it clear that there was no satisfying the conflicting interests fighting over the shape of the town’s wastewater policy. As a result, for most of the town’s residents who live in the areas governed under the RIDEM rules, our only option is the $30K+ denitrification system.

Author: Will Collette